Although the eastern Tibetan plateau has a rich literary history,
political turmoil and poverty have seriously undermined the literacy
rate of the local population. In 1996, before the NYEMA Projects
education initiative began, an estimated 75% of the region's
inhabitants were illiterate.
The vast majority of children in Nangchen were not able to attend school prior to 1996. The main reason was simply the region’s isolation and poverty. It was too expensive for families to send their children to the few schools that did exist, nor was transportation available to travel the long distances.
In 1996, with the help of Dr. Pema Dorje, Lama Norlha Rinpoche purchased a plot of land in the Korche valley with the intention to build a free school for the local children of Nangchen. Yönten Gatsal Ling School, "Garden of Joyful Learning," opened its doors to over seventy boys and girls from twenty-five rural villages in the early spring of 1997. Today, the school serves a community of over 120 boarding and 60 day students. It is now run by the government, after establishing a strong record of success in its first five years of operation.
Courses taught at NYEMA's first central primary school revolve in a three-year cycle which includes Tibetan studies, Chinese and English languages, and mathematics.
Beginning in 1997, NYEMA Projects established 51 one-room satellite schools in surrounding villages to promote basic literacy and math skills among children who were unable to attend the central primary schools. As of winter 2005, these schools have fulfilled their purpose and ceased operation. Many families have now moved to more populated areas in search of employment. Meanwhile, thanks to the satellite schools, a large population of children in the Nangchen countryside now has basic reading, writing and math skills, and some have gone on to higher education.